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Tribeca Film Festival 2014: Top five must see films

By NADINE MATHEWS | 4/17/2014, 4:52 p.m.
None of the underworld glamor usually in evidence in news reports and movies about Colombia’s drug trade is present in ...
“Alex of Venice” Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

“Manos Sucias”

None of the underworld glamor usually in evidence in news reports and movies about Colombia’s drug trade is present in the Josef Wladyka-directed and Spike Lee-produced film, “Manos Sucias.”

Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival,“Manos Sucias” simmers where most coverage of Colombia’s drug trade boils. The setting is in the sleepy coastal town of Buenaventura, as opposed to Bogota, Medellin or Cali. Most of the film’s characters are of African descent, as opposed to Native American or Mestizo, which most of the residents of the larger cities are.

Although other cities get much more publicity, Buenaventura is widely known as a hub for Colombia’s cocaine trade, rife with a level of economic desperation that drives the supply of young men more than willing to risk their own lives and the lives of others to simply survive.

Says Wladyka, “Buenaventura is one of the toughest cities in Colombia, a place that’s really been historically forgotten by the government for a while. It’s a place that is very much under siege with violence and drug trafficking and all kinds of different groups that try to control the waters there. It’s very much a place that not a lot of people know about outside of Colombia, and I wanted to shed a light on that with this film.”

Wladyka’s treatment of the characters and subject matter (two very young fathers’ dangerous trip down the river to deliver a shipment of drugs) is unsparing, yet delicate. Jacobo and Christian are drawn as real human beings forced to make do in a world with very few choices. “Manos Sucias” deftly shows us the insidious manner in which circumstances often shape the unfortunate choices we must make.

“Mala Mala”

Another great film at this year’s festival is “Mala Mala.” A documentary film about the lives of transgendered men and women in Puerto Rico, “Mala Mala” charms its viewers as it brings into question what is the root of gender identity issues. There is also a focus on the fight for employment equality for transgender people in Puerto Rico.

Ironically, part of the reason the film is so engaging is the fact that many in the transgender community work as entertainers or aspire to do so. Whether completely consciously or not, it is not wholly by choice that they do so. Born with an innate understanding of their separateness from the rest of the world, and further marginalized by the attention given to gay rights as opposed to transgender issues, working as entertainers functions to capture a level of attention they may feel is owed them because they are human but is denied because they are transgender. In fact, one of the participants in the film tries to get the audience to differentiate between wanting to be recognized as a woman as opposed to wanting to be an icon of glamor.

On a more practical level, because they are, in fact, discriminated against if even a whiff of their true identity is revealed, entertainment (and sex industries) are some of the only areas where they are allowed to make a living.